Volume 4, Issue 1
Environment @Harvard H a r v a rd U n i ve r s i t y C e n t e r f o r t h e E nv i r o n m e n t www.environment.harvard.edu
Splitting Water to Save the Planet Powering the developing world's poor with an 'artificial leaf'
C. Mayhew & R. Simmon (NASA/GSFC), NOAA/ NGDC, DMSP Digital Archive
By Alvin Powell
s the sun sets across rural Kenya, smoke rises from cooking fires in crooked gray columns that drift above the landscape. Smoke comes also from indoor fires, diffusing through the grass roofs of the traditional huts that dot the area. Women preparing supper make a thick cornmeal paste called ugali, to accompany leafy and nutritious kale, and perhaps some meat from a goat slaughtered that day at the nearby butcher’s shop. As the night deepens, families gather around the fire or talk around a table inside, their voices sounding against the musical backdrop of a battery-powered radio. The nearest electricity is miles away, at the small collection of shops and a gas station on the main road. Indoors, children do homework by the light from
candles and kerosene lanterns. This scene of traditional rural life still plays out nightly in large parts of the developing world, where some 1.5 billion people live without electricity. As serene as the scene might seem viewed from the comfort of industrial world couches, the lack of power keeps poor people poor, robs them of good health, and denies them the advantages of an ongoing global revolution that provides ever greater information, ever easier communications, and ever richer entertainment for people in the electrified world. But the global, powerless poor aren’t forgotten. International development workers have long struggled—with both success and failure—to bring them modern health care, improved agricultural techniques, bet-
A satellite map of the world gives a sense of the electricity consumption on each continent. The U.S. consumed 3.741 trillion Kilowatthours (kWh) in 2009, versus about 5.738 billion kWh in Kenya.
ter education, and other benefits of industrialized society. The national and regional governments of impoverished nations also want to boost education, health care, and economic development, though they’re often hamstrung by some combination of inefficiency, inattention, lack of resources, and corruption. The United Nations (UN) sees access to electricity as a key step in achieving global health and development milestones and has therefore set a goal of universal access to power by 2030. Climate scientists, however, regard the global poor with more than a little worry.
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Photo Courtesy of Dominick Reuter, MIT
Though they don’t question their right to modernize, these scientists know that powering up another 1.5 billion people through conventional means will demand many more power plants, most likely fueled by oil, coal, and natural gas, the fossil fuels whose combustion is a major culprit in human-induced climate change. When expected population growth by midcentury is factored in, the number of new, conventional power plants needed daily to meet global demand is enough to boggle the mind, on the order of two 500 Megawatt facilities—each capable of powering 200,000 homes—between now and 2050. One scientist with an eye on the world’s energy poor is chemist Daniel Nocera, Dreyfus professor of energy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who is moving up the Charles River next January to take a position at Harvard. Nocera shook up the scientific community in 2008 with the announcement of a process that allows scientists to easily mimic the
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Shedding New Light on Energy Storage Daniel Nocera makes the jump from MIT to Harvard, and brings along his "artificial leaf," a device that may soon power the world's poor. 2
Letter from the Director
10 Destination: Antarctica HUCE Director Daniel Schrag retraces his winter journey to the south polar region.
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power of plants to convert sunlight into energy through photosynthesis. Late last year, he created another stir, when in September he announced he had packaged his discovery with a small photovoltaic cell and created a device—the size of a pack of cards—that he called the first practical “artificial leaf.” When dropped into a glass of water and placed in the sun, the artificial leaf splits water molecules to generate oxygen and hydrogen gas, which when burned or combined in a fuel cell, can create enough energy daily to supply the modest power needs of a developing world home. Nocera has taken a keen interest in the global poor, those who live in what he calls the “non-legacy world,” places devoid of both power plants and the miles of lines and poles needed to move electricity from where it’s generated to where it’s needed. In his view, they are the world’s future. In coming decades, not only will the 1.5 billion people without power 15 New Environmental Fellows The incoming cohort will spend two years tackling complex environmental challenges. 16 In Memoriam: Dr. Paul Epstein A tribute by Professor James McCarthy. 18 Aruba Welcomes Harvard Faculty Harvard faculty travel to Aruba to study its burgeoning renewable energy sector. 18 A Conversation with Jeremy Bloxham The Dean of Science offers his view on re-envisioning Earth sciences in an energy context.
"The people driving the energy problem—it’s a whisper that’s going to become a cacophony—it’s going to be the poor and we need to take care of them. I never say I will help the poor. I always say the poor are going to help us because they’re going to teach us how to live in the future.” today be gaining it, but their communities will absorb a large portion of the additional two billion plus people expected as a result of global population growth by mid-century. Because of their sheer numbers, how those places go about developing and modernizing will determine not only their own future, but because of the climate implications of the fuels they use, will also influence environmental impacts throughout the world. “The people [who will be] driving the energy problem—it’s a whisper that’s going to become a cacophony—it’s going to be the poor and we need to take care of them,” Nocera says. “I never say I will help the poor. I always say the poor are going to help us because they’re going to teach us how to live in the future.” A Tenacious Visionary Nocera gained his most important training as a chemist in the 1970s during a time of fuel shortages and oil embargoes, while a doctoral student at the California Institute of Technology. It was then that he decided to work on photosynthesis, to understand and mimic what nature does in a leaf. He also recognized the long road ahead. “When I was a grad student, I realized I wanted to do energy and I wanted to do photosynthesis,” Nocera said during a recent interview in his MIT office. “[But] when I started looking at that, I realized whole pieces of science were missing.” Nocera knew that the key step, from an energy point of view, occurred relatively early in photosynthesis: the splitting of water into hydrogen and oxygen. That is when energy from the sun is captured and
Letter from the Director Dear Friends: It is my great pleasure to share this new edition of our newsletter with you. As you will see in these pages, the Harvard environmental community is thriving. Next January, we welcome the arrival of our new colleague in Chemistry, Dan Nocera, a fantastic addition to our program in the science of energy. His work is highlighted in this issue in an article by Alvin Powell. We will also be welcoming a new class of Environmental Fellows, and a new group of graduate students in our Graduate Consortium on Energy and Environment. This summer, we are working on an exciting new educational initiative that we hope to announce in fall 2012. Faculty members from around the University are busy supervising undergraduate and graduate student research projects as well as working on their own research before classes resume. Looking back over the past year, this spring was remarkable in many ways, but perhaps no more so than in the unusually warm weather we experienced in New England (and most of the central U.S.). In Cambridge, our snowplows and shovels went virtually unused, and the warm February and March temperatures made flowers bloom weeks earlier than normal. In Minnesota and Michigan, overnight low tempera"One could rejoice in the tures broke records for all time highs; Chicago suffered from a heat wave during a time when snow should still have been early return of spring, but as piling high in the streets. For a moment, even as climatolowe look forward it also seems gists like me were scratching their heads trying to make ominous as we wonder about sense of such unprecedented conditions, one could rejoice the ways that ecosystems may in climate change, reveling in the early return of spring. But as we look forward, such pleasures seem ominous. I wonbe affected by such dramatic der how birds will adjust to this early spring warmth, how changes in the weather." pollinators will keep up with the flowers, and how all the other dependencies that characterize ecosystems may be affected by such dramatic changes in the weather. For me, it is a lesson in humility, reminding me how poorly we understand the Earthâ€™s climate system, and how many surprises are likely in store. International commitments to climate change mitigation seem very far away now, in the face of international economic fears about Europe and a slowing economy in China. Here at Harvard, we need to renew our commitment to scholarship and teaching that will help guide the world toward a solution, and manage the changes as they occur. With best wishes,
Dan Schrag Director, HUCE
Harvard University Center for the Environment
goals, not by the year, but by the decade. He first focused on understanding how to move the electrons. Eventually, Rudolph Marcus won the 1992 Nobel Prize in chemistry for mastering the trick with one electron. For his process to work, though, Nocera had to figure out how to do it with several. Once he had discovered a way, Nocera turned his attention to the proton. Working first in his lab at Michigan State University, where he taught for 13 years, and then at MIT beginning in 1997, he eventually realized that the proton and the electron had to be coupled to make it work. In other words, he couldn’t just take out the protons and then take out the electrons. It all had to be done at once, in what he describes as a choreographed dance now known by
Photo Courtesy of Dominick Reuter, MIT
stored in chemical bonds. The plant, of course, is only halfway done at that point and goes on to combine the hydrogen and oxygen with carbon to create a carbohydrate, but to a scientist interested in photosynthesis not as a way to make little plants but rather as a way to catch the sun’s rays, once the water is split, the game is won. Splitting water is a complex process in photosynthesis. When a plant breaks a water molecule apart, the water isn’t broken directly into oxygen gas and hydrogen gas, mainly because the plant can’t handle hydrogen gas, Nocera says. Instead, oxygen is split from hydrogen and the hydrogen atoms are taken out in pieces, as protons and electrons. When Nocera began working on the problem in the early 1980s, he began by setting
Above: Nocera's artifical leaf, constructed of a silicon solar cell with catalytic materials bonded to each side, brings artificial photosynthesis a step closer. Below: Nocera in his MIT lab.
the tongue-twisting name of “protoncoupled electron transfer” (PCET). Nocera’s work proved fundamental in the new field of PCET, and became important in understanding how enzymes function. But he never lost sight of his long-term goal, understanding the key water-splitting step in photosynthesis. “While I was doing PCET, I was trying to figure out how electrons and protons couple for water splitting,” Nocera says.
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A Self-healing Catalyst In 2008, Nocera announced a process that mimicked the water-splitting reac-
tion of a leaf. Its key elements were an electrode coated with a special catalyst made of cobalt and phosphate that created oxygen when a current was turned on, paired with a second electrode made of platinum that produced hydrogen. The most difficult piece—and the most elegant solution— was creating the oxygen-producing catalyst that accomplished the difficult first step in the water-splitting reaction. “The really hard part is the initial tearing of water apart,” Nocera says. “That’s what the leaf does, it makes oxygen first….Once you make O2 [from two water molecules], you have four protons and four electrons left over which, at your leisure, you can later use to make hydrogen.” Nocera’s cobalt-phosphate catalyst had a couple of benefits. First, it worked at room temperature in any kind of water, whether from the Charles River, a puddle outside the lab, or the ocean—an important trait if the process was to be useful in the developing world. Second, the catalyst was self-healing, meaning that though it gets broken apart in the reaction, as catalysts often do, it automatically re-assembles from its parts, making it ready for another round without having to be replenished. “That was totally different. Every other known material we used, we’d put it in water and watch it corrode,” Nocera says. “We made the first self-healing catalyst.” These traits gave Nocera’s process a leg up on a competing one developed in 1998 by John Turner at the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado. Turner’s system worked, but proved impractical for broader application because it used expensive chemicals that corroded rapidly. “The beauty of what we had done, what really kept getting us, was the simplicity,” Nocera says. “We had simple materials, they formed spontaneously from solution, you would just put a current in and they would self-assemble….” Nocera’s dream, however, was not just to create a chemical process. He wanted something he could drop in a glass of water, hold up to the sun, and watch work. After three more years of toil, he unveiled such a device in September 2011. He had created a photosynthetic sandwich, bonding the critical oxygen-splitting electrode to one side of a photovoltaic material, and a new, cheaper material to make hydrogen—an alloy of nickel, molybdenum and zinc—to the other side.
Then he dropped it in water and held it up to the sun. Powered by the current from the photovoltaic, the two electrodes began producing bubbles of hydrogen and oxygen: fuel from the sun via an artificial leaf. The device is about 10 times more efficient at converting the sun’s rays to energy than a natural leaf and contains a breakthrough catalyst they know will operate for at least 45 days without a drop in activity. When placed in a gallon of water in the sun, the leaf generates a few hundred watts a day, enough to power a developing world home. Further, by coupling his artificial leaf with equipment to capture and store the oxygen and hydrogen gas, the device might solve the intermittency problem of solar energy: it could create electricity day and night. During the day the electricity from the solar cell would provide power to the home and run the water-splitting reaction. The gas would be stored for later use at night to power a fuel cell, which generates electricity and creates water as a byproduct. Dreams and a Desperate Need The group that might benefit most from Nocera’s device is actually much larger than the 1.5 billion people who are completely without access to electric power today. According to a 2010 report by the UN Advisory Group on Energy and Climate Change, another 1 billion are connected to unreliable power grids, and some 3 billion use biomass fuels for cooking, a practice that puts women and small children in smoke-filled kitchens daily, leading to an estimated 1.5 million excess deaths each year from lung disease caused by chronic smoke inhalation. To reach that disadvantaged population, the UN report calls for the global energy system to be “transformed” in the coming decades. If new, clean energy technology can be developed and distributed, it says, the global poor can leapfrog the industrialized world with systems providing sustainable, affordable energy. The report, which estimates the cost at $35 billion to $40 billion annually between now and 2030, suggests three strategies for effecting this transformation: extending the current grid; creating new, mini-grids powered by conventional or renewable sources; and creating distributed power sources for those entirely off grid. The
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hile studying at Harvard Law School in the mid-1970s, Sheila Jasanoff spent a long summer practicing at a corporate law firm in Boston. “I remember thinking, ‘Well, if this is what it is about, I don’t want to do it,’” says Jasanoff, Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies at Harvard Kennedy School. She told one of her law professors that she was looking for a job that provided something useful to society; he promptly helped her land a job at a tiny environmental law firm. It was an exciting time for the field, Jasanoff recalls. “We were really smack in the middle of the ten-year period when all of the environmental laws were being enacted, and nobody had really figured out what these things meant on the ground.” She practiced for two years at the firm before becoming a research associate at Cornell, where she first began to study the relationship between science and public policy, launching what is now a nearly 35-year-long career. One of the developments Jasanoff has been able to follow from its beginnings is the rise in the politicization of science in the United States—which she says has chilled the relationship between scientists and the American public. She places its start in the Reagan administration’s efforts to purge scientists that it deemed too environmentally-minded. Ever since, “there’s been much more of a sense that science itself is not free from politics. For many people, that then leads to the conclusion, ‘Well, if the science isn’t going to be unbiased,
why should we rely on it anyway?’” This has played out recently in episodes like “Climategate,” a 2009 incident in which hackers stole thousands of emails from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia and sent them to climate change critics, who subsequently argued that the messages represented a conspiracy to manipulate data showing climate changes and silence dissent. On a recent visit to the University of East Anglia, Jasanoff perceived a telling message in the CRU office’s location: detached from any other building, only connected to the rest of campus via a bridge. “I saw it as a metaphor for an inward-looking, self-sufficient view of science that carried some risks,” she says. “And we saw what some of those risks were during Climategate.” There is a way forward, says Jasanoff, who is currently finishing work on “Science and Public Reason,” a collection of essays that explore what makes for plausible public policy arguments. Scientists, she says, need to communicate more freely with the public at large, and show them that they are willing to engage in conversations around the analysis of their data. “Those are the sorts of virtues that you ideally expect from good politicians and also what you should expect from policyrelevant science,” she says. “Believable [policy] arguments are not only believable because you have the best science. In addition to that, a baseline requirement is that there has to be trust in the entire decision-making process.” — Dan Morrell
Harvard University Center for the Environment
Kris Snibbe, Harvard University Photographer
Tarun Khanna, Lemann Professor at Harvard Business School and director of Harvard's South Asia Initiative.
last of these—distributed power systems—is of greatest interest to Nocera and others tired of waiting for governments and utility companies to extend existing power lines. “There’s a lot of interest in decentralized forms of energy,” says Henry Lee, senior lecturer in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School and the Jaidah Family director of the Environment and Natural Resources Program. “The argument here is we’ve been waiting decades for the existing urban system to electrify rural areas by expanding transmission and distribution systems and…it hasn’t happened in a lot of places.” With a desperate need waiting to be filled, there is an opportunity for the
right device coupled with the right business model, according to Lee and Tarun Khanna, the Lemann Professor at Harvard Business School and director of Harvard’s South Asia Initiative. “Demand is huge. There’s a small per capita demand, but the aggregate is massive,” Khanna says, “so it’s waiting for an entrepreneur to come up with a solution.” In the developing world, parts of any major city will have reliable electricity, Khanna says, though typically those are areas where the wealthy and politically connected live. Other parts of the city will have intermittent power and families of means will have diesel generators that kick in when the grid fails. Large sections inhabited by the poor will have little or no power at all. Outside urban areas, electricity is rarer still. Even where there is power though, cost remains a hurdle. Electricity in rural areas is most commonly produced by diesel generators that, when the cost of the gen-
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s an undergraduate at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Richard Lazarus was often asked why he had chosen to pursue a B.S. in Chemistry and a B.A. in Economics at the same time. His standard answer then—that the dual degrees were “pre-environmental law”— nearly always drew the same response: “What’s environmental law?” These days, however, neither Lazarus, the Aibel Professor of Law at Harvard Law School (HLS), nor the field of environmental law needs any introduction. As one of the pioneers of the field, which applies the law in the service of the environment, Lazarus has distinguished himself as one of the premier legal minds in the nation. Now he is turning his attention to Harvard—where he himself was once a law student—and efforts to train the next generation of lawyers. “There’s no question that, for me, the primary tug in coming back here… was the students,” Lazarus said recently. “If I blur my eyes just a little bit, they look like my classmates. Their optimism, their skill set, and their commitment are very similar to what I remember from several decades ago, and that’s really fun.” 6
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Though he is known in academia largely for his scholarly work, Lazarus has also served in the Justice Department’s Environmental and Natural Resources Division and the Solicitor General’s Office. Most recently, he was appointed by President Obama to serve as the Executive Director of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling and principal author of the commission’s report. “If you read the report, I think we surprised some people, because we were initially criticized as being too green,” Lazarus says. “But we concluded that deep-water drilling can be done, and done safely. It’s not a technology that’s beyond our reach, and it can produce enormous benefits to the nation,” he continues, “but it has to be done with more rigorous oversight and testing and protocols and inspectors, none of which is unduly expensive—you just have to do it right.” Despite his detours into public service, Lazarus says his primary role at Harvard is as a teacher. His ambitions for environmental law at HLS, however, extend beyond the walls of the classroom.
Photo Courtesy of Richard Lazarus
“My goal, and one that played a major role in my coming here, is to build a broader environmental law program with Cox Professor of Law Jody Freeman and with Wendy Jacobs, the director of the Emmett Environmental Law and Policy Clinic,” Lazarus says. “We want this to be a program that, if law- and policy-makers are facing an issue, they think of contacting Harvard.” “We have all the ingredients now, and we’re working to build something that extends the scholarship and brings the classes and students together in a coherent academic program,” Lazarus continues. “Our plan is to build nothing less than the best environmental law program in the country." — Peter Reuell
erator, fuel, and its transport over poor roads are considered, provide power at a cost of 20 to 30 cents per kilowatt hour. “Twenty-two cents, if it showed up on your bill [in the United States], you’d be having heart failure,” Lee says. “But if it’s in rural Cameroon, it’s not so bad.” The high cost of power presents an opportunity for alternatives, Lee says. Renewables that are too expensive to catch on in developed nations, for example, may be able to gain a foothold in remote areas of the developing world, even though there will always be some families for whom almost any cost will be too high. When considering renewable alternatives, Lee has been most encouraged by solar power. Though photovoltaic panels are still too expensive to allow widespread adoption, their prices have been on a continual downward trend that, if it continues, will soon put them within reach of many more people. Lee and Khanna point to existing examples of breakthrough technologies. Cell phones are a “non-legacy” technology that has blossomed; with simpler infrastructure needs than traditional wired phones, they have spread all over the developing world as devices become cheaper. “From cellphones, you realize that a steep increase in efficiency makes a first order difference to adoption rates,” Khanna says. “The cost of mobile telephony has fallen so dramatically that it really is in every nook and crevice of the world. It has become an agent of change and this [artificial leaf ] could be the same way.” Cellphone towers, powered by generators burning expensive diesel fuel, may also provide an opportunity in the developing
some new technologies have benefitted from a government-subsidized boost. Second, how scalable is the technology? Can it grow from small pilot projects to widespread adoption? Third, how compatible would it be with the existing grid? A further critical factor in the successful adoption of a new technology like the artificial leaf is entrepreneurs who will not only sell devices, but also provide supplies and repair services. “I can get a grant from the World Bank or someplace to install a solar [photovoltaic] system. The guy who installs it comes from 300 miles away. He puts it up and leaves, then four weeks later it breaks
The group that might benefit most from Nocera's device are some 3 billion who use biomass fuels for cooking, a practice that puts women and children in smoke-filled kitchens daily, leading to about 1.5 million deaths each year from lung disease caused by chronic smoke inhalation. world for photovoltaics, Lee said, if they can generate power more cheaply than diesel. Khanna offers three questions he says are important to consider for a new energy product such as Nocera’s. First, how much government support would the technology need at the beginning? Less is better, of course, and none better still, but
down, the local people can’t fix it, and it never works again,” Lee points out. “For this [Nocera’s artificial leaf ] to work, it’s not just getting the system [installed], it’s building the entrepreneurial system that maintains them. So you have to build entrepreneurs in those areas who specialize in low-margin renewable energy options
Henry Lee, senior lecturer in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School and the Jaidah Family director of the Environment and Natural Resources Program.
because there aren’t a lot of margins to incur in poor villages.” Lee suggests a model where power generation is anchored by other facilities. A rice-husking plant, for example, could anchor power generation fueled by burning rice husks, or by using the husks to make biogas and burning that to generate power. The husking facility might buy half the power generated to run its operations while the rest is distributed to the community. “The key is to have the entrepreneur who can maintain the facilities and be the purveyor of [the devices],” Lee says. Ricardo Hausmann, director of Harvard’s Center for International Development and professor of the practice of international development, cautions against thinking that the developing world is rife with “entrepreneurs” waiting for opportunity. There’s a difference, he says, between passionate entrepreneurs like the founders of tech startups who create companies that employ thousands and people in the developing world who run a shop that employs three people and are essentially “entrepreneurial” because they have no other choice. Even with that caution, though, Hausmann welcomes innovations that might
Harvard University Center for the Environment
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bring more electricity to the developing world. Electricity is a need so basic, he says, that many things flow from it. The Internet, whose information can be an equalizer between rich and poor, is obviously inaccessible without electricity.
t the Rialto movie theatre in his hometown of El Dorado, Arkansas, eight-year-old Joe Lassiter fell in love with the ocean. What began that day with the Disney version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea—the Jules Verne classic—led to a deckhand job on oceanic research vessels at 14, and three years later to Lassiter’s matriculation at MIT as an engineering student. He went on to earn three degrees at MIT, eventually becoming an assistant professor in the ocean engineering department, studying the economic and environmental consequences of offshore oil and gas development. He was on-course to be a lifetime academic—just as his mother had always imagined. But in January 1976, he decided to spend a sabbatical at semiconductor test-equipment maker Teradyne. He figured he’d be back on campus by the fall. “And then, twenty years went by,” says Lassiter. He focused on building new businesses during his nearly two decades at Teradyne, eventually leaving in 1994 to join the founding team of telecommunications start-up, Wildfire Communications. When Lassiter started teaching entrepreneurial finance on the HBS faculty two years later, he again had short-term expectations that proved instead long-term; this year will be his 16th at HBS. But the environmental awareness that characterized his youth was reawakened about a decade into his time at Harvard, beginning with a 2005 case study of a California winery. While examining the company’s business plans, he noticed that its long-term strategy called for switching the type of grape it grew due to anticipated changes in the local microclimate. Interest piqued, he started reading about climate change research and the grow8
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ing investment in clean technology and renewable energy. “I discovered that a lot of the conversations were the same ones I had been involved with in 1974—issues around energy security, about the risks of catastrophic events, and [about] forecasting the effects of climate and ocean activity. I felt very comfortable [with the area], and I’ve been doing more and more work here ever since.” As he began to write cases on biofuels and electric car manufacturers, his students were bringing him related ideas for field projects on photovoltaic cells, wind energy, and even new ways to produce oil and gas. In response, Lassiter and Professor Forest Reinhardt developed a new Building Green Business course, which they began teaching in 2008. Today, that course, known as Innovations in Business, Energy and the Environment, is taught by a team of HBS and SEAS faculty. What he sees in the classroom and in his case studies are the kind of useful ideas, he says, which run counter to the idea that business and the environment must have an adversarial relationship. “People need to understand that enterprises—be they for-profit or not-for-profit—are mechanisms for making change in society,” says Lassiter. “It is often easy in academic circles to see [the issue as relevant] to just science and government, and forget that there is this institution called business, which is also a player...In the end, to solve problems as dramatic as the ones we face, we’re going to need action by government, action in the scientific community and sustained action by the business community, or we just won’t get rapid, efficient change that the world demands.” — Dan Morrell
Relief for a Global Climate In September 2011, the same month that Nocera unveiled his leaf, the U.S. Energy Information Administration released projections that confirmed climate scientists’ fears about the future. The report projects that world energy use will grow 53 percent by 2035, with the fastmodernizing nations of China and India accounting for half the increase. Though renewable energy is projected to grow faster, fossil fuels will still account for 78 percent of world energy use in 2035, the report says. Carbon dioxide emissions are expected to rise 43 percent over the period, with most of the increase coming as the developing world catches up to consumption levels in industrialized nations. In the view of Harvard atmospheric chemist James Anderson, the climate situation is at crisis levels already. Many scientists believed that climate change’s effects would reach the point of no return when atmospheric carbon dioxide levels reached 350 parts per million. The world is approaching 400 parts per million today. “If there isn’t a clear pathway…to wean us off carbon-based fuel as a human community, we basically will march inexorably into tens of meters of sea level rise, the loss of all the glacial structures, first in the northern hemisphere, which removes the water supply for China, India, the western part of the U.S., and so on,” Anderson says. Anderson, the Weld professor of atmospheric chemistry, believes Nocera’s work shows an enormous amount of promise. It addresses head on the problem of switching from high-carbon to low-carbon fuel sources, and also provides developing world societies with a way to transform themselves by freeing women from hours spent each day collecting wood and water. “We have a pathway into the future that is innovative, creative, responsible, and sustainable. If we follow the [existing] carbon fuel pathway even for the next few years, we’ve entered an irreversible stage that does nobody any good except for the vested interests that sell
"We have a pathway that is innovative, creative, responsible, and sustainable...this technique that Dan has developed allows the use of electrons and photons to take up a major part of the increase in per capita energy demand over the next 50 years." the stuff,” Anderson says. “This technique that Dan has developed allows the use of electrons and photons to take up a major part of the increase in per capita energy demand over the next 50 years.” Building on Success Nocera’s appointment as Rockwood professor of energy in Harvard’s department of chemistry and chemical biology generated a lot of excitement when officially announced in March. Eric Jacobsen, Emery professor of chemistry and chair of Harvard’s department of chemistry and chemical biology, says Nocera’s hire, effective January 2013, will fill several needs in a department whose most prominent inorganic chemist, Dick Holm, retired three years ago. “Inorganic chemistry is one of the canonical subfields of chemistry that really has to be represented in a strong department,” Jacobsen says. “Students were having to take courses at MIT just to fulfill requirements. It was really an acute need.” In addition to filling the department’s need for a top inorganic chemist on its faculty, Jacobsen says Nocera’s hire allows the department to join a greater conversation already ongoing across Harvard on one of the most important issues of our time: energy. “There’s quite a bit of effort at Harvard in areas related to energy, especially on the policy side—at the Kennedy School, the Business School, the Law School—but relatively little on the FAS [Faculty of Arts and Sciences] side,” Jacobsen says. “We
know this is an area where we wanted to gain strength. It’s an important area, and obviously an area that will continue to be important in the future.” Nocera already has some agenda items to work on at Harvard. While promising, his leaf has a long way to go before it can be incorporated into a marketable product. Some development will proceed at the Cambridge-based startup, Sun Catalytix, that he established to help translate his discoveries into products. But more basic science research is also needed. One of the knottiest issues posed by Nocera’s photosynthetic approach to localized energy production is that it requires consumers to handle hydrogen and oxygen gas. Nocera acknowledges that difficulty and says it may be best to continue to crib from nature and convert the gases to a solid fuel like a plant’s carbohydrate, more easily handled in a low-resource setting. That’s something Nocera is looking forward to working on with Harvard’s community of organic chemists. Moving to Harvard gives Nocera greater access to experts in policy, business and even sociology, as well, all areas that may prove valuable as the artificial leaf moves from prototype to product. Harvard’s vast
network of alumni, who work around the world in international development, public health, and leadership positions in government, will also help, he says. Nocera’s view of the future isn’t focused solely on the developing world, however. Closer to home, he’d like to see the Boston and Cambridge area become a global powerhouse in energy research and development, mirroring what it is already in medicine, the life sciences and biotechnology. The brains are already here at both Harvard and MIT, he says, and the right project and vision can pull in the necessary resources. “What’s happened here in biotech [can] happen here in energy. This will become energy central.”
Above: Ricardo Hausmann, director of the Center for International Development and professor of the pratice of international development. Right: James Anderson, Weld professor of atmospheric chemistry. Harvard University Center for the Environment
In late January 2012, Dan Schrag embarked on an expedition to the icy, snowy realm of Antarctica. For 10 days he and a team of 140 explored the wild, barren landscape of the south polar region. He chronicled his journey in the reflective account below, complete with photographs he captured during the expedition together with photographer Dawn Jones.
ntarctica was never my idea of a vacation. As a geologist, I might go there for work; indeed, many of my colleagues have done field studies in Antarctica, working on ice cores, or the geology and microbiology of the dry valleys. But taking a vacation in Antarctica? That was never on my list. Yet here I was, setting off by ship from Argentina, and heading across the Drake Passage, bound for the Antarctic Peninsula. I had been invited by former Vice President Al Gore to participate in a voyage there, along with 140 of his friends and associates. The passenger list included industrialists, venture capitalists, philanthro10
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pists, politicians, writers, publishers and musicians, all coming together to visit the frozen continent and talk about climate change. The trip was part of the Vice President's new initiative on climate change called "The Climate Reality Project," and the invitation was too good to refuse. When we gathered in Buenos Aires, I admit I was intimidated by all the celebrities, but once we boarded the ship, most of that dissipated. Spending eight days on a boat together made our everyday lives fade into the background. I should make clear that this was not “roughing it” by any standard. The Vice President had chosen Lindblad Expedi-
tions’ ship, National Geographic Explorer, outfitted with every comfort one could imagine. Part of me hoped we might experience an adventure crossing the Southern Ocean, sharing the adversity faced by those famous polar explorers, Shackleton, Scott, and Amundsen. But in fact, the seas were so calm on our voyage south across Drake’s Passage that it could have been the ferry across Nantucket Sound. On the third day, we awoke to find ourselves in Antarctica. The weather was warm—a balmy 35 degrees (so much for all the cold weather gear I had proudly carried in my duffel). And we were ready
Dan schrag Dawn jones
for our first visit ashore to see penguins. Whatever expectations I had for this trip were dashed as soon as I stepped out of the Zodiak inflatable and onto land. Surrounding us were thousands of pen-
guinsâ€”Chinstraps, Adeles (we would see three other species before the trip was done)â€”with chicks still too young to swim. Encountering these creatures in the wild is nothing like observing them
in the New England Aquarium. The parents were scurrying back and forth to the water, stepping around and sometimes over us, while the bolder chicks would poke at my boots, completely unafraid of
Harvard University Center for the Environment
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our invasion. Their lack of fear was a reminder of just how remote we were in this place, where no land predators could reach them. Our visits to shore twice a day were the highlights of the trip, but the activities on the ship were also rewarding. The organizers had prepared a series of group discussions and presentations about climate change, about sustainable investing, and about the geology and ecology of Antarctica. As a climate scientist, I was encouraged by how much people already knew about the science of climate change. What surprised me was how much the Antarctic Peninsula was already being affected. Scientists who had studied Antarctica for decades described the changes in ice cover, in the size of penguin populations, and in the marine ecosystems surrounding us. Many of the ecological changes were also due to overfishing, a problem that seems mostly invisible until you are confronted by a continent with no land plants, and where the entire ecosystem depends on marine life. There was one moment aboard ship that was particularly memorable. This took place on the first evening in Antarctica, after dinner, but when there was still plenty of light in the sky. The captain
Dan schrag Dan schrag
had steered the vessel into a narrow passage full of icebergs, and as we dodged these massive blocks of ice, the passage became more and more filled with pack ice, apparently blocking our way. Instead of avoiding the ice, our ship plowed right throughâ€”the special hull made it almost an icebreakerâ€”and cries of jubilation came from all the passengers, who had crowded up on the bow, even as it reached midnight and the sun set for a few hours of darkness. I will never forget the sounds and sensations of the ship cutting through the ice, bouncing off a small iceberg now and then, and proceeding toward a horizon of seemingly endless white. In that moment, our group experienced a sense of shared euphoria, creating a bond that persisted throughout the rest of the trip. Even as we exited the passage, many of us stayed up, talking and sipping coffee, hot cocoa, or whiskey, and savoring the Harvard University Center for the Environment
magic of the experience. On the final day of our stay, I became obsessed with capturing the perfect image of Gentoo penguins “flying” through the sea. Seeing these streamlined creatures jumping out of the water fully excused their ridiculous appearance when waddling across the land. Dawn Jones, a talented photographer, helped me craft and compose my images. Her photographs of penguins (also reproduced here) capture the mystery of these animals in a way that brings me back to Antarctica every time I see them. During the trip home, I finally got my wish for a nautical adventure, as Drake’s Passage was not so kind on our return. For more than 30 hours we were buffeted by 30-foot seas, and although I was not seasick, I admit that thinking of Shackleton crossing from Elephant Island to South Georgia in an open lifeboat made me happy we were aboard a 370-foot ship. The most challenging part of the crossing came when I had to give a 30-minute talk on energy technology 14
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"Antarctica is so remote, so difficult to get to, yet is now affected by the greenhouse gas emissions we continue to put in the atmosphere. For me, it is a reminder of the scope of human activities, and how profound is our influence on the planet." and climate change solutions while the ship rolled up and down in the waves. Imagine giving a lecture and feeling as though you and your audience are attached to bungee cords. That was probably not my finest performance, but it was wonderful to be able to share my thoughts about how to fix the climate problem with such a knowledgeable and thoughtful group.
Returning to Boston and the spring semester, I immediately became reimmersed in academic life—classes, research, meetings. But every now and then, I stop and look through my photographs and remember that feeling of standing on the bow as we sailed through the pack ice. Antarctica is so remote, so difficult to get to, and yet is now affected by the greenhouse gas emissions we continue to put in the atmosphere. For me, it is a reminder of the scope of human activities, and how profound is our influence on the planet. I want to return to Antarctica, perhaps when my small children are old enough for such an adventure. Seeing the wildness of Antarctica while simultaneously witnessing our influence over it puts our work on environmental science into inspiring and sobering perspective. Dan Schrag and Dawn Jones are pictured on pages 12 and 13 amid Antarctica's ice caps and snow.
Introducing the New Environmental Fellows HUCE welcomes incoming cohort of postdoctoral researchers HUCE extends a warm welcome to its newest cohort of Environmental Fellows, who will join the current group of scholars embarking on their second year of the program. Now in its sixth season, the Fellows program recruits a diverse group of intellectually-curious, high-achieving scholars who work closely with a Harvard faculty mentor to tackle complex environmental challenges in a wide array of disciplines. Second year Fellows include: Emily Fisher, an atmospheric chemist; Christopher Golden, an ecologist and epidemiologist; Francis Ludlow, a historical climatologist; Fabien Paulot, an atmospheric chemist; Jenny Suckale, a geophysicist; and Hillary Young, a community ecologist. The 2012 Environmental Fellows are: Nathan Black, Ph.D. Political Science, MIT Nathan is a political scientist interested in the future relationship between climate change and violent civil conflict. His dissertation research sought to explain why violent civil conflicts in the developing world sometimes spread across borders. Nathan will work with Eaton professor of the science of government Robert Bates on the security consequences of climate change in Latin America. Nathan will try to identify best practices for Latin American state governments facing arable land supply shocks of the kind expected as a result of climate changeâ€”analyzing which responses to these shocks have led to peace in the past, and which have led to violent conflict. Jessica LaRocca, Ph.D. Pathobiology, Brown University Jessica is an environmental toxicologist interested in how exposures to toxicants during pregnancy can influence the development of the fetus both before and after birth. Her graduate research focused on adult reproductive outcomes following in utero exposures to the toxicant, Bisphenol A. She also explored the role of the survival gene, Akt1, on mammary gland
development and cancer. Jessica will work with Karin Michels, associate professor at Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health, to examine the relationship between epigenetic alterations in the placenta and exposure to toxicants during pregnancy. Her work will compare epigenetic alterations to genes related to steroidogenesis in the placenta to phenol and phthalate urine levels during pregnancy. Chiara Lo Prete, Ph.D. Environmental Engineering, Johns Hopkins University Chiara is an energy economist who studies the function and regulation of electricity and environmental markets. Her doctoral research has addressed topics in energy and environmental economics, applied econometrics and empirical industrial organization. Chiara will work with Plank professor of global energy policy William Hogan of the Harvard Kennedy School on the development of energy and ancillary service market models for the integration of distributed generation in liberalized electricity markets. Eduardo Souza Rodrigues, Ph.D. Materials Science and Engineering Eduardo is an economist interested in the causes of deforestation in the Amazon and the costs and effectiveness of policies that promote conservation. His Ph.D. research estimated the demand for deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon and, based on this estimate, investigated the impacts of three policy interventions. He also developed nonparametric estimators that can be applied to land-use choice models using micro data. Eduardo will work with Heller professor of economics Ariel Pakes. He will develop and estimate a dynamic model of land use decision for the Brazilian Amazon. The model will serve two purposes: it will be used to estimate the elasticity of deforestation (and of emissions of carbon) with respect to commodity prices; and it will be used to evaluate the dynamic implications of environmental policies.
Jin Suntivich, Ph.D. Materials Science and Engineering, MIT Jin is a materials scientist interested in understanding surfacemolecule interaction that can lead to rational design of novel energy conversion and storage materials. His Ph.D. research focused on finding a structureproperty relation that controls the electrochemical activity of transition metal oxides and nanoparticles for applications in fuel cells and metal-air batteries. Jin will work with Balkanski professor of physics and applied physics Eric Mazur of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences to control semiconductor materials for light-to-fuel conversion. His work will also explore the spectroscopies of surfacemolecule interaction. Giuseppe Torri, Ph.D. Theoretical Physics, Imperial College London Giuseppe is a theoretical physicist interested in different aspects of atmospheric convection, with particular reference to entrainment and how aerosols are removed from the atmosphere through convective precipitation. His Ph.D. research focused on non-perturbative aspects of gauge theories, with particular attention to supersymmetric theories. During this time, Giuseppe also collaborated with former HUCE Environmental Fellow David Romps at UC Berkeley on a project related to the parameterization of convective entrainment. Giuseppe will collaborate with associate professor of climate science Zhiming Kuang and McCoy Family professor of atmospheric chemistry and environmental engineering Daniel Jacob, both of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, to investigate how convective processes influence the transport of aerosols in the atmosphere. His work will focus on how precipitation that originates from convective motions removes aerosols from the troposphere and how this process can be easily represented with numerical models.
Harvard University Center for the Environment
Paul Robert Epstein 1943-2011 A Remembrance, by James McCarthy
Photo Courtesy of the center for health and the global environment at harvard medical school
aul Epstein, the son of a physician and think of health care as being readily availde Janerio, where the Climate Change Cona musician, received his physics degree able, Paul became a champion for undervention was finalized, they were met with from Cornell University and his medical served refugee and immigrant populations puzzlement from members of the policy degree from Albert Einstein College of in East Cambridge, while practicing famcommunity-why would physicians be inMedicine. Instilled with a deep passion for ily medicine at Cambridge City hospital. terested in climate change? The conference social justice, Paul became active while in He broadened his perspective on infecwas a turning point for Paul’s interest in medical school in efforts to provide better tious diseases by earning an MPH at Harglobal aspects of climate change, and it was health care for impoverished people. With vard, and became increasingly drawn to the cholera epidemic in coastal Peru just six a fresh MD degree he and his wife months earlier during a period of Andy, a public health nurse, with unusual weather that aroused Paul’s two young children, volunteered interest in the ocean. Soon thereafter I had the opporfor two years of service in Mozamtunity to meet Paul. He called to bique shortly after it gained indeask if he could come by my office pendence from Portugal. These to talk about plankton and ocean were times of enormous societal processes that contribute to bloom upheaval, during which there was conditions. I was intrigued as to a massive exodus of health care why a physician would be interprofessionals, and Paul and Andy ested in plankton, nutrients, and were part of an international team ocean temperatures, so I said sure, that provided the most essential of and imagined a short visit that medical services as this new nation would likely slip from memory struggled to rebuild its health care with the passage of time. Today I system. Facilities were sparse, and can still recall vividly our conversawith woefully inadequate supplies tion. The half hour or so we had they treated people who were sufeach allotted flew by quickly. I was fering from chronic and acute disstruck by the intensity of his curieases that one might expect in the osity. He wanted to know what I rural regions of any poor tropical knew and what he should read to country, and more. This was Paul’s go further on almost everything first encounter with infectious we touched upon. He was the first diseases like cholera, malaria, and physician I came to know who was dengue fever, and by seeing his thinking about climate change and patients in their environment he human health more broadly than also came to appreciate ways in heat waves, injuries associated with which societal conditions are linked with environmental condi- Paul Robert Epstein, instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical storms, etcetera. He was astutely School and associate director of the Center for Health and the Global aware that unusual patterns were tions in setting the stage for the Environment at Harvard Medical School. occurring in infectious disease outspread of such diseases. He bebreaks across tropical and temperate came an astute observer of the natthe study of diseases that were either new regions. Familiar old scourges like malaria, ural history of hosts, vectors, and pathoor re-emerging. He was on the front lines dengue, and rift valley fever were popping gens and saw how ecological balances in as the AIDS epidemic erupted. up in unexpected places, and there were degraded ecosystems can be upset and lead A seminal paper by Dr. Alex Leaf at HMS new ones as well. Regarding the latter, Paul to human misery and death from vectoron “Potential Health Effects of Global Cliwas always eager to learn all that was borne disease. He wondered why malaria matic and Environmental Change,” pubknown about the natural history of surprise was now occurring in regions where previlished in the New England Journal of Medidiseases like hanta virus, west Nile virus, ously it had not been a problem. Following his return to the U.S., Paul cine in 1989, had stirred within the medical etc. Why were conditions more favorable could have decided that he had done his community some awareness of a sleeping for its spread in some places rather than share of humanitarian service, but his deep giant-how might climate change be affectothers, i.e. rural vs. urban locales? Was an compassion for the least among us was ing human health? A few years later when outbreak related to unusual recent weather? abundantly evident in the choices he Paul and his physician colleague, Eric Was a rapidly spreading disease in an urban made. In metropolitan Boston, where we Chivian, attended the Earth Summit in Rio setting simply a reflection of higher popula16
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Left: Paul listens intently to discussion in his "Global Change and Human Health" course. Right: Paul outside Harvard Medical School.
tion density or the consequence of a more hospitable environment for the vector? As we explored each other’s interests more fully we began to think about teaching a course together, and for the next fifteen years we offered a junior tutorial on Global Change and Human Health for undergraduates in Environmental Science and Public Policy. Annually we would select a theme for the course, often related to recent unusual weather, such as aridity across sub-Saharan Africa, heat in western Europe, cold in Russia, hurricanes, etc. Typically about twenty students indicated an interest in this course, but Paul felt strongly that each student should be able engage fully in every class discussion, so we restricted enrollment to about a dozen. Paul pushed students to find reporting as close to primary data as possible on disease outbreaks, public health measures, weather, etcetera. For many students this was their first experience working with primary data, and some class papers led to senior theses and to publications. Paul was always interested in knowing the career intentions of students at the start of the class, and during the semester, as they began to see a new view of the fields of public health, medicine, and the evolving linkages between the two, some career plans changed. Some students told us, of-
ten years later, that this course in particular had pointed them towards a career in medicine or public health, and this made Paul enormously proud. At a fundamental level, Paul and I shared a deep interest in solving problems. From the time of our first meeting I was inspired by Paul’s passion for finding effective solutions. Through the global change problems that interested us both I could see the mind of a physician when Paul revealed his perspective. At some point the physician has to use judgment to diagnose to the
better condition for all peoples now and for generations to come. In late summer when Paul contacted me to say that the treatment would be taking longer than expected, and we would have to put the course off until spring 2013, I still wasn’t thinking it possible that he wouldn’t survive to do this. Because of Paul’s broad interests in medicine, social justice, music, and more, he had an unusual number of friends and close colleagues. But an unusual number of people also enjoyed special relationships with him because he was adept in nurtur-
"Paul's passion for a full life and his concern for the welfare of others will forever be a source of inspiration to all who knew him." -James McCarthy nature of the malady, and then formulate a solution in time for the patient to have a good prospect for full recovery. Paul always advocated a precautionary approach, and in retrospect my more cautious perspective was often unnecessarily so. This interesting tension between us would play out during class discussions, and it was a very effective way to engage students. We last taught together a year ago this spring, and a few weeks into the term Paul began chemotherapy, but it never crossed my mind that this would be our last opportunity to work together in the classroom. In April his book, “Changing Planet, Changing Health,” was published, and it is an inspiration to everyone who seeks a
ing substantial friendships. His passion for a full life and his concern for the welfare of others will forever be a source of inspiration to all who knew him. The New England Office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency selected Paul Epstein to receive an Environmental Merit Lifetime Achievement Award posthumously in recognition of his exceptional work and commitment to the environment. This award recognizes outstanding environmental advocates who have dedicated their lives to preserving and protecting our region’s natural resources. The award was presented at a special ceremony at Faneuil Hall in Boston on April 25, 2012. James McCarthy is the Agassiz Professor of Biological Oceanography.
Harvard University Center for the Environment
Aruba welcomes Harvard faculty to study its burgeoning wind and solar power sectors By Lisa Matthews
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ruba is well known for its white sandy beaches and turquoise water. Now the island country, part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, is making a name for itself in the area of green energy, too, as 10 wind turbines on the eastern coast provide close to 20 percent of the country’s electricity. Another 10 turbines are in development, which will make Aruba the country with the highest percentage of electricity generated by wind in the world. Unlike many places in the world, where the low cost of burning fossil fuels makes wind energy cost-prohibitive, in Aruba electricity is generated with expensive, imported oil, making sustainable energy more than a win-win. “It’s striking when efforts to promote sustainability make common economic sense,” says Jonathan Losos, a faculty member in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, (who is also Curator of Herpetology in the Harvard Museum of Natural History). Losos was one of seven Harvard faculty members who traveled to Aruba in January to participate in a workshop on sustainable development hosted by the Aruban government. Other members of the Harvard delegation include: Daniel Schrag; Michael Aziz (SEAS); George Baker (HBS); Peter Huybers (Earth and Planetary Sciences); David Keith (SEAS and HKS); and Henry Lee (HKS). At the workshop, Mike de Meza, the Aruban Minister of Finance, Communication, Utilities and Energy, described the challenges of sustainable energy development on the island. Despite the excellent wind resource, he emphasized that backup power or energy storage is essential. To meet this need, they are seeking outside expertise to exchange knowledge on new technologies in the field. George Baker, who has experience managing the intermittency of wind power from his work on Vinalhaven, Maine (see Environment@Harvard, Vol 3, Issue 2), discussed at the workshop how Aruba would benefit from a transactive grid, where consumers and businesses could buy discounted electricity during off-peak hours. He envisioned that the island’s major resorts, accounting for 40 percent of the overall energy demand, would choose not to turn on their air conditioning at 4 pm, when they would have to pay full price for electricity. With a transactive grid, the resorts would have an incentive to invest in new technologies, such as ice-based air conditioning, which takes advantage of low energy prices at night when the turbines are most efficient to store cooling power for use in the day. “If Aruba can solve the issue of grid management…then Aruba could become the number one country in the world in utilization of renewable energy,” says Dan Schrag. The workshop was designed in part because the Aruban government is working to make the country a hub in the region for sustainable energy technology testing and certification. The government has entered into an agreement with the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research to establish the Aruba Sustainable Research Institute, a clean-technology research center that aims to take advantage of the island’s near constant wind, waves, and sun. The government hopes the center will provide educational and training opportunities for Aruban residents, international students and professionals. Prime Minister Mike Eman emphasized that Aruba is still saddled with a fossil fuel-dependent economy in the short term—their oil refinery operation accounts for 15 percent of GDP and employs approximately 5,000 people (amongst the few non-service sector professional jobs on the island). “As Prime Minister,” he noted at the workshop, “you are faced with long-term development of your country, and of the world. The role that our leadership can play is to mark the difficulty of the conversion to renewables.” As Peter Huybers noted at the workshop, “Aruba has a visible role abroad. Many people come here to relax, but also to be inspired. I think you can help lead the international community, to show what can be done."
Photos (L to R): Conference attendees gather outside the Cheung Convention Center in downtown Oranjestad; David Keith poses in front of Aruba's wind farm (also shown above, left); Dan Schrag lectures at the University of Aruba; Prime Minister Mike Eman, flanked by the Harvard delegation, hosts a press conference about the workshop; Prime Minister Eman (left) converses with Schrag during a visit to Arikok National Park.
Harvard University Center for the Environment
Re-envisioning Earth Sciences in an Energy Context An interview with Dean of Science Jeremy Bloxham Planetary scientist Jeremy Bloxham, dean of science in Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) and Mallinckrodt Professor of Geophysics, was first appointed to the Harvard faculty as an assistant professor in 1987. Bloxham, who has been honored for exceptional undergraduate teaching, studies how planets generate magnetic fields, a longrecognized phenomenon that is still not fully understood despite more than four centuries of scientific investigation. Now, as a dean, he also focuses on nurturing the qualities that make Harvard a magnet for young scientists ambitious to tackle earth's most difficult challenges. Harvard University Center for the Environment director Daniel Schrag spoke with Bloxham on March 29. Daniel Schrag: As a geophysicist and former chair of the department of earth and planetary sciences, and now as dean of science in FAS, what is your long-term perspective on the broad area of energy and the environment in the context of the earth sciences? Jeremy Bloxham: What makes the earth sciences at Harvard stand out from the earth sciences at a number of our peer institutions is our ability to adapt and to redirect the department in the face of new challenges. In the 1970s, for example, the department largely refocused its direction toward geophysics and seismology. In the new century, the obvious area for the department to refocus and redirect its energies has been in climate. The department is now extremely strong in that area. That’s not to say that it shouldn’t grow further and add more strength, but in terms of climate science, earth and planetary sciences is amongst the very strongest departments. In fact, climate is becoming a unifying theme for the department. Even my own interest in the generation of the earth’s magnetic field and what happens deep in the earth’s interior—even there, there is a link to climate—and it is not the obvious link. The obvious link to climate is that some people believe magnetospheric physics is an important part of the climate problem. But the link I’m interested in concerns changes in the circulation in the earth’s atmosphere, 20
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changes on decadal and longer time scales due to climate change. There’s a concomitant change in the angular momentum of the atmosphere, but the earth as a whole must conserve angular momentum. And that will cause a change in rotation of the earth’s mantle, which will cause a change in rotation in the core. And so I see for my own interests climate as being an interesting forcing signal on changes in the core. So even an area of earth sciences that may seem very remote from climate is impacted. Schrag: Yes. You can’t get much further from the atmosphere than the core. Branching out from earth and planetary sciences, and wearing your hat as dean of science in FAS, obviously energy and the environment encompass much more than earth and planetary sciences. Bloxham: Yes, if one looks across the science departments in FAS, just about every science department is impacted by climate, some more so than others, but the ones experiencing the greatest impact are earth and planetary sciences, organismic and evolutionary biology, chemistry and chemical biology, and physics. But then less obvious departments are a part of this as well, from astronomy to human evolutionary biology all the way through to statistics. I see climate as a theme that has a broad impact on science within FAS, but having
said that, I believe very strongly that Harvard’s great strength in this area is that we are about more than just the science—we bring in the public policy aspect as well. Schrag: That’s especially true when we move beyond just climate or environment and broaden the scope to include energy, because there you are now making substantial investments in the physical sciences. Do you want to talk a little bit about that? Bloxham: Well I can talk a little about a recent appointment we’ve made. We’re bringing chemist Daniel Nocera over from MIT. I suspect he will be the first scientist at Harvard who, if you asked him, “What do you do?” would say, “Energy science.” We have many faculty members with overlapping interests who are impacted strongly by the energy problem, but he is probably the first who views that as his primary focus. This is a doubly attractive appointment for our chemistry department. They have wanted to build additional strength in inorganic chemistry for some time. And they have been wishing to build strength in energy science. Here is a chance to build in both areas with one appointment. And having Dan come to Harvard will help the chemistry department to make further appointments in this area. I do think it’s wonderful that when one looks at chemistry today, its importance is
expanding into areas in which previously it had much less impact to the point that now the department is in some sense central to energy science. Schrag: When you look at the energy initiative at MIT, which has gotten a lot of accolades and I think quite deservedly, their focus has been based on the premise that the energy problem is a technology problem that can be addressed with engineering solutions. A few years ago, George Whitesides wrote a piece for Science where he talked about the long view on energy and argued that the role of the university was not technology development because big companies actually do lots of that very well. Instead, he urged that universities should do fundamental work in sciences such as physics and chemistry. While that will not lead to a particular battery or fuel cell in the next three years, it could in fifty years completely change how we think about energy. Bloxham: Yes. Well, MIT is an institute of technology and we are a university. And there is a difference. Somewhat oversimplifying, I think if one were to draw a distinction between where MIT can make its contribution and where we can make ours, MIT is the place to go if you want to make a contribution that is going to be important on a five-year time scale. If you want to make a contribution that is going to be important on a twenty-five year time scale then Harvard is the place to be. Our strength is in fundamental science, and in science that is going to be paying off not in five years’ time but in twenty-five years’ time. Schrag: You mentioned earlier that Harvard’s strength is about more than just science. Because we are a university that has strengths in policy, social science, economics, law, business, and so on, that’s in many ways fundamental to the way we think about science. You have championed the role that places like the Center for the Environment play in bringing different parts of the University together. How does this broader role that the Center plays help make Harvard the best it can be? Bloxham: During its ten-year history the Center has done a superb job of bringing together people from across the University. I think it’s a wonderful example of how the walls that we imagine exist between schools at Harvard can be broken down by a center that’s very effective at providing a venue around which people congregate and meet.
Schrag: Do you think the connections to the Kennedy School, to the Business School, to economics play an important role in bringing somebody like Dan Nocera here? Bloxham: I have no doubt that we would not have been successful in bringing him to Harvard if it weren’t for the fact that Harvard is about more than just science. It is a community of people spanning the social sciences, the natural sciences, public health, business, law, and the humanities, who are interested in energy and environment. Schrag: Through these interdisciplinary and cross-school collaborations, Harvard remains connected to the real world in a way that most universities do not. How do you think this plays a role in forming and nurturing young scholars, whether junior faculty numbers, post-doctoral fellows or our own graduate students? Do you think that’s important in creating future natural scientists? Bloxham: Well, I think a good example is Peter Huybers, who is a climate scientist. He is a faculty member in earth and planetary sciences, yet he is getting involved in
students and captures their attention much more effectively. I think that’s a pedagogical experiment that has obviously had a successful outcome. Schrag: In some ways we are seeing that same demand from the graduate students who while they are completing their Ph.D. in chemistry, in earth and planetary sciences, and astronomy and physics, are at the same time demanding exposure to some of the world’s great challenges. Bloxham: I think it is important that graduate students who are going to be the academic leaders of the future get exposure to problems of public policy and the like— beyond their immediate thesis concerns. Schrag: Yes, without sacrificing their expertise in their own disciplines. Bloxham: I think at the same time we have to be mindful when we put together curricula in energy and the environment that we still train students who have a fundamental grounding in the underlying science because I firmly believe that the big break-
"In interdisciplinary science it is always a challenge to determine how much one focuses a curriculum around the intersection of different areas of science. But those intersections are where the most exciting science lies." initiatives beyond energy and environment. He is involved in a group that is interested in the history of the human past. Peter has become involved in that initiative I think because he saw the example set by the Center for the Environment. That helped open his eyes to ways in which science can impact other areas across the University. Schrag: What about our undergraduates and graduate students? Do you have a sense that there is a growing demand for exposure to these issues as we go forward? I know that you have been a champion of the revised content of Physical Sciences 1. How do you think our curriculum plays a role in this? Bloxham: I think energy and environment is a wonderful means to contextualize the science that is taught. And PS1 is a good example of that: an introductory physical sciences course that is teaching physical chemistry in the context of the energy problem. Particularly in an introductory science course, contextualizing the science makes it so much more relevant to the
throughs are going to come from the person who is thoroughly grounded in chemistry and/or thoroughly grounded in physics or applied mathematics, rather than somebody who has taken a series of lower level courses. Schrag: I agree. That’s why the Center started the Graduate Consortium in Energy and Environment and why we’re working on secondary fields for undergraduates; because in some ways, we want to encourage all undergraduates, regardless of their core disciplines, to get exposure to other areas, rather than creating a very thin level of knowledge that’s spread widely, without any core depth. I think that is very important. Bloxham: In interdisciplinary science as a whole it is always a challenge to determine how much one focuses a curriculum around the intersection of different areas of science, versus how much one emphasizes the core underpinnings of that intersection. But those intersections are where the most exciting science lies. People naturally gravitate toward them.
Harvard University Center for the Environment
In El Salvador, Getting My Hands Dirty By Robert Weiss, MPP1, Harvard Kennedy School
n the hills of northern El Salvador near Santa Ana, the local population typically can’t afford quality health care and afterschool services for their children. That’s where Asaprosar, a non-governmental organization (NGO) that runs a health clinic and administers child protection and education services, steps in. When the organization approached MIT’s D-Lab: Energy class requesting help to build a biodigester that could convert locally available waste into clean burning methane for cooking hot meals in the NGO kitchen, it became an amazing opportunity for the class to develop skills in implementing energy engineering projects in a developingworld context. Thanks to the support of the Harvard University Center for the Environment, I was able to join my MIT classmates in this real-world project. D-Lab typically works with communities in developing countries using inexpensive, locally available materials to design technologies for “extreme affordability.” A core goal is to design and build technology in conjunction with the community, in order to ensure sustainability through local buy-in and sharing of know-how. We brought a few tools, but mostly worked with our Salvadoran partners using their tools and materials. For me, this class was a way to take my background in global
environmental policy and apply it in a hands-on context. A biodigester consists of a long (30 feet in this case) tube with several valves that accept waste, which is converted via an anaerobic process into methane, which can then be piped directly to a stove. Fed with organic waste products—cow manure or vegetable scraps, for example—it can produce free energy indefinitely. After several days of backbreaking work, our team started the bacterial reaction that converts waste into energy by “priming” the biodigester with manure. Loading it with hundreds of pounds of fresh cow patties was the grossest (and most hilarious) part. We learned far more about working with waste than we bargained for. We also learned about some broader environmental issues facing El Salvador. The nexus of poverty and environmental degradation was particularly evident in the deforested mountains surrounding the city of Santa Ana. Growing energy needs and limited ability to pay for more ad-
vanced fuels (like natural gas and oil) drive the illegal collection of firewood, despite government efforts to curb deforestation through patrolled fences and legal penalties. While our project made barely a dent in the sustainable energy needs of Salvadorans, it provided a tangible benefit to our NGO partner as well as a critical learning experience for the students. We came away with confidence in our ability to execute projects in unfamiliar settings, and with experience working in the renewable energy sector in the developing world.
Clockwise from Top: Robert Weiss, hard at work riveting; Volunteers clearing the site prior to construction; The nearly-finished biogas digester.
2012 Undergraduate Summer Research Award Recipients
ach summer, the Center for the Environment’s Undergraduate Summer Research Fund provides scholarships for students to complete environmental research in locations of all kinds—labs across Harvard, field sites in South America, and wildlife sanctuaries in Africa. This year, the Center offered 14 assistantships for research with Harvard faculty and eight awards for independent research to undergraduate concentrators in Computer Science, Earth & Planetary Sciences, History of Science, Environmental Engineering, Environmental Science & Public Policy, Organismic & Evolutionary Biology, Chemistry, Engineering Sciences, Physics, and Economics. For more information about the Undergraduate Summer Research Fund, including how to apply, visit http://environment.harvard.edu/ student-resources/undergraduate-summer-researchfund. Summer research opportunities are made possible by the generous support of Bertram Cohn '47, Barbara "B." Wu (Ph.D. '81), and Eric Larson '77. • Jasmine Casart '13, "Native Hawaiian and European Agricultur-
al Approaches in the Late 18th and Early 19th Century in Hawaii" • Aidan Daly '13, will work with Professor Alán Aspuru-Guzik on
"Applying quantum computation and advanced genetic algorithm techniques to screening potential high-effiiciency photovoltaic polymers." • Charles Gertler '13, "Potential for Solar-Generated Electricity in China" 22
Volume 4, Issue 1
• Laila Kasuri '13, "Hydrological Modeling for Flood Management" • Courtland Kelly '13, will study climate change in Concord, MA
with Professor Charles Davis. • Alexander Kim '13, "From the Gulf of Guinea to the Bridge of the World: Transoceanic dispersal and human-mediated invasion in two pantropical genera of freshwater prawns" • Amy Lorber '15, will work with Professor David Clarke to study scarce energy materials.
Environment @ Harvard A sampling of the spring semester’s events Ongoing Series
The Future of Energy
The Future of Energy lecture series, which focuses on finding secure, safe, and reliable sources of energy to power world economic growth, kicked off the spring semester with a talk by Mary D. Nichols, California Air Resources Board Chairman. Her talk centered on climate change legislation, particularly the notion that stalled talks in Washington, D.C. have pushed policy leadership to individual states. The Center also hosted Carl Pope, former Chairman of the Sierra Club. He said that in order to meet the challenges posed by climate change, America must bolster its manufacturing sector. To make every home, facility, school, power plant and hospital cleaner and greener, each must be refurbished or rebuilt. Consequently, the environmentally-friendly products required must be delivered by high-tech manufacturing, much of which has left the U.S. in recent decades. These are the factories and jobs, Pope said, that America should fight to get back. The series concluded on April 4 with Daniel Yergin, Pulitzer prize-winning author and Executive Vice President and Chairman, IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates. The major questions about energy today, Yergin said,
are growth in demand and the prospect of energy scarcity in the future; energy security related to the Middle East and a new vulnerability to cyber attacks; and the environment. And though the world faces enormous energy hurdles, Yergin takes the view of “reasoned optimism” because of the amount and pace of energy innovation. Past lectures can be viewed online anytime at http://www.environment. harvard.edu/events/video. Stay tuned to our website for the upcoming Fall 2012 list of speakers. Biodiversity, Ecology, & Global Change
This series brings top scholars in the fields of biology and ecology to Harvard. This spring, the Center hosted Kamaljit S. Bawa, professor in the Department of Biology at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, for a talk on the effects of climate change and land use development in the Himalayas. Helen F. James, Curator in Charge, Smithsonian Institute, Division of Birds and Hrdy Visiting Fellow at Harvard University continued the series with a discussion on reconstructing the genetic and ecological histories of extinct and endangered species of Hawaiian birds. Thomas B. Smith, Director of the Center for Tropical Research, Institute of
• Min Lee '14, will model how forests respond to climate change
with Professor Andrew Richardson. • Samita Mohanasundaram '13, "Effect of Agricultural Pesticides (mancozeb and pirimicarb) on Hematopoietic stem cells" • Sarah Moon '15, will study the politics surrounding the Law of the SEA Treaty (LOST) with Professor Henry Lee. • Sachi Oshima '13, "Impact of Climate Variability and Change on Tropical Forest Dynamics in South East Asia" • Ariana Saxby '13, will study water and wastewater treatment technologies with Professor Chad Vecitis. • Laszio Seress '14, and Professor Alán Aspuru-Guzik will work in tandem on the "Harvard Clean Energy Project: Towards designing efficient organic solar cells using computational chemistry." • Joseph Shaeffer '15, will work to develop fuel cell catalysts with Professor Alán Aspuru-Guzik. • Upasna Sharma '15, will work with Professor Eli Tziperman on the project "Testing Climate Models by Comparing behaviour of El Niño in Global Warming and Pre-Industrial Scenario Using
the Environment and Sustainability and professor, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, UCLA, concluded the series on April 19 with a discussion on how biodiversity is generated and maintained in African rainforests. The full list of speakers and their videos presentations is available at http://www. environment.harvard.edu/events/video. Green Conversations
This annual lecture series, which brings energy and environmental experts to campus for a brief presentation and public discussion with Harvard faculty, welcomed Andrew R. Revkin, New York Times Dot Earth columnist. His talk explored ways to fill the environmental information gaps left by shrinking mainstream media, a divisive blogosphere, and strangled public budgets. Revkin was joined in discussion by HUCE director Daniel P. Schrag, Hooper professor of geology; William C. Clark, Brooks Professor of International Science, Public Policy and Human Development, Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government, Harvard Kennedy School; and Cristine Russell, Adjunct Lecturer in Public Policy, Environment and Natural Resources Program Fellow, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. The three aforementioned lecture series are sponsored through generous support from Bank of America.
Feedback Mechanisms." • Kendall Sherman '15, will partner with Professor James Shine to study the storm contamination of the Kenisco Reservoir of the New York City water supply. • Ian Shields '13, will work with Professor Jonathan Losos to study the role of behavior in adaptation to climate. • Richard Stanley '12, "Effects of Habitat Disturbance on a Cloud Forest Bird Community" • Tanner Strickland '14, will study interactions between tropical lizard species with Professor Jonathan Losos. • Francis Thumpasery '13, "The Role of Fertilizer Subsidies on Indian Agricultural Choices" • Nick Waldo '13, will work with Professor Chad Vecitis to study advanced waste water treatment technologies. • Luchen Wang '12, will study climate change policy with Professor Dustin Tingley. • Allison Welton '15, "Agricultural Biotechnology and the Environment" Harvard University Center for the Environment
Science & Democracy
Science and Democracy, a series cosponsored with the Harvard Kennedy School Program on Science, Technology, & Society, explores the benefits of scientific/technological breakthroughs and the harmful consequences of inadequately
Pu b l i c a t i o n N o t e S u m m e r / f a l l
2 0 1 2
The Harvard University Center for the Environment (HUCE) encourages research and education about the environment and its many interactions with human society. By connecting scholars and practitioners from different disciplines, the Center seeks to raise the quality of environmental research at Harvard and beyond. Environment @ Harvard is a publication of the Center for the Environment Daniel P. Schrag, Director James I. Clem, Managing Director Kellie M. Corcoran, Communications Coordinator, Designer All portraits by Claudio Cambon unless otherwise noted.
Harvard University Center for the Environment 24 Oxford Street Cambridge, MA 02138 www.environment.harvard.edu
Volume 4, Issue 1
understood developments. This spring, Anne Wojcicki, CEO and co-founder of 23andMe, a personal genomics and biotechnology company, made a presentation on genome sequencing and crowd-sourced healthcare. 23andMe, which offers customers the chance to compare their DNA with known sequences for diseases, conditions, and traits at increasingly low costs, has built one of the world’s largest databases of individual genetic information. Sheila Jasanoff, Pforzheimer Professor of Science & Technology Studies at the Harvard Kennedy School, moderated a panel discussion with Wojcicki following her presentation.
Convection, Water Vapor, and Climate
This past March, faculty associate Zhiming Kuang, associate professor in Harvard's Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, organized a climate workshop co-sponsored by HUCE and the Harvard Physical Oceanography Committee. This three-day workshop featured more than 30 presentations by scientists throughout the country on the connection between "Convection, Water Vapor, and Climate.” Sustainability and the Built Environment
This hands-on exploration of Harvard’s work with respect to sustainability and the built environment was hosted in tandem with the Real Estate Academic Initiative, the Office for Sustainability, and the Graduate School of Design. The day-long workshop featured two plenary sessions and 10 faculty presentations.
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How Science Can Contribute to Poverty Alleviation in Africa: Lessons from the International Centre of Insect Physiology & Ecology Christian Borgemeister, International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe)
Director General of the icipe Christian Borgemeister traveled from his home base of Nairobi, Kenya, to share an overview of the Centre’s efforts to improve people’s livelihoods and environments through the sustainable control of insect, pests, and disease vectors. The Lost Woodlands of Ancient Nasca: New Perspectives on Environmental Collapse on the South Coast of Peru David Beresford-Jones, Cambridge University
Dr. Beresford-Jones, Fellow of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, explored the case of ancient Nasca, which flourished along the riverine oases of Peru’s south coast until c. 500 A.D. He presented theories on Nasca’s collapse, including both major El Niño flooding and evidence of human-induced events, such as the clearing of woodlands to make way for maize, cotton and other crops.